As soon as I saw that first trailer and Ma asked me not to let her drink alone, I knew that I couldn’t.
I have a confession. I love bad movies. Not necessarily movies with bad acting and unrealistic CGI and nonsensical plot points, though those can be fun too. I love movies that are so over the top and so ridiculous that I spend an hour and a half wondering what in the world I am watching. Because of this guilty pleasure, Ma is the most fun I have had in a movie theater this year.
“Ma is the most fun I have had in a movie theater this year.”
Octavia Spencer stars as the titular Ma. Her real name is Sue Ann, but she goes by Ma for 90% of the movie and for 100% of the rest of my life. Ma is a seemingly normal veterinary assistant who lives her day-to-day life in an unspectacular fashion. One day, she is approached by Maggie (Diana Silvers) outside of a convenience store, who asks her to buy alcohol for her group of friends. Ma reluctantly agrees but claims she will only do it this one time. Eventually, she reneges on this and ends up becoming the main source of alcohol for these underage teens during the Prohibition era that is high school. This relationship becomes more and more dependent, as Ma’s house becomes their party spot. Meanwhile, Ma’s excitement to spend time with them, though endearing at first, becomes increasingly unhealthy.
The fun of Ma is the unpredictability. From the moment she appears onscreen, we are forced to wonder what is up with Sue Ann. There is something off about her but what that is is unclear. Is she lonely? Does she want to relive her youth? Is there something more sinister about her? The ambiguous nature of the character, and the story, is compelling enough to drive the entirety of the movie by itself. Ma has a lot of tricks up her sleeve that make it more than just a B-Movie thriller.
“The fun of Ma is the unpredictability.”
First and foremost, credit has to be given to Octavia Spencer. The first time I saw a preview for Ma, I laughed out loud— not in a good way. For the Oscar winner, this seemed like such a strange turn from Spencer. I couldn’t believe that less than a decade after winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Spencer was here, hamming it up in a less than awards-friendly movie. That was my mistake though. It can be difficult at times to separate what makes a good movie and what makes a good performance.
Despite the fact that I would not call Ma high art, Spencer shows a level of commitment to the role that is not only commendable but is also necessary for the movie to work as well as it does. At first, I couldn’t believe that Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer was starring in a movie with such a ridiculous concept. After seeing it, I can’t imagine anyone else as Ma. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really. Though it is a 180 turn from the crowd pleasing drama, The Help, which earned Spencer her Oscar, it is directed by the same person, Tate Taylor. Taylor clearly knows Spencer’s strengths, and the two can put in good work together— whether it is about a group of maids in the 1960s South or an uncomfortably attached middle-aged woman who FaceTimes high schoolers during the day shouting, “IT’S FIVE O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE!”
“I couldn’t believe that Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer was starring in a movie with such a ridiculous concept. After seeing it, I can’t imagine anyone else as Ma.”
The next biggest strength of Ma is its willingness to lean into the absurdity of its story. I mentioned above that Ma is not high art. It’s true. It is a weird, trashy, throwback to the stalker thrillers of the 1980s. But that is why it is so good. It never tries to be anything else. Recognizing what it is and the tone it should hold is crucial to making a movie like Ma fun. Becoming too self-serious can result in a lack of breeziness that works so well within the confines of this type of film. Ma knows what it is and stays that way, despite the alarming premise.
Not only does it stay fun, but it has several twists and moments that are so shocking that add to its appeal. And that is really all the summer movie season needs. With so many sequels and remakes, it is nice to have an original movie that is such a joy to watch and takes pride in what it is. Ma takes pleasure in going to extreme lengths to showcase its insanity and forces its audience to come with it. It has been the biggest surprise of the year so far. And what a welcome surprise it is.
Check out more of our movie reviews! From Toy Story 4 to the new Spider-Man: Far From Home and to the remakes of The Lion King and Men in Black:International, summer 2019 will bring our all-time favorite movies back on the big screen!
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